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Court Rules Against Tobacco Companies On Ban Question

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A state appeals court Wednesday rejected arguments by two tobacco companies that part of a landmark Florida Supreme Court ruling amounts to an improper ban on selling cigarettes.

Attorneys for Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. raised the issue in an appeal of a Hillsborough County judgment in what is known as an "Engle progeny" case. Such cases are linked to a 2006 Supreme Court ruling that established critical findings about the health dangers of smoking and misrepresentation by cigarette makers.

The Engle ruling helped clear the way for thousands of lawsuits against the tobacco industry that involved illnesses or deaths of smokers. In the Hillsborough County case, which led to a judgment in favor of the estate of Barbara Ruth Lourie, the tobacco companies argued to the 2nd District Court of Appeal that federal law "implicitly preempts" claims under state law of strict liability and negligence for the sale of cigarettes, according to the appeals-court ruling.

The tobacco companies contended that federal law effectively bars states from banning cigarettes and that findings in the Engle case amounted to a ban on selling cigarettes. But a three-judge panel of the appeals court disagreed in a 10-page ruling.

"The companies were not held liable for simply placing cigarettes on the market or the inherent characteristics of cigarettes," said the appeals-court decision, written by Judge Nelly Khouzam and joined by judges Anthony Black and Samuel Salario.

"Rather, based on evidence that the companies had manipulated the nicotine levels in their cigarettes to make them more addictive and manufactured cigarettes with filters that increased the cigarettes' inherently deleterious effects, the companies were found liable for placing cigarettes on the market that were defective and unreasonably dangerous. They were also found liable for failing to exercise a degree of care that a reasonable cigarette manufacturer would exercise under like circumstances --- a standard that assumes cigarettes could be sold in a reasonable manner."